Annual statistics (2018/19) for work-related fatalities were released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 1 July.[i]
To read our analysis of last year’s 2018/19 statistics, see our article in edition 280 of BC Disease News (here).
Provisional data for the latest reporting period (between April 2019 and March 2020) shows that 111 workers suffered fatal injuries at work, meaning that, for every 100,000 workers, 0.34 died.
Historically, Britain has consistently boasted one of the lowest fatal injury rates internationally, as is demonstrated by the graph, below:
Over recent years, the frequency of workplace fatalities has plateaued.[ii]
Around 40-years ago, workers had a significantly higher risk of dying in the course of their employment (or as a consequence of it) – in 1981, there were 495 workplace fatalities (2.1 deaths per 100,000).
At the turn of the millennium, in 1999/00, annual workplace deaths were halved to 220 (0.8 deaths per 100,000).
Over the past decade (2010/11 to 2019/2020), the average number of occupational fatalities has been 145.5 (0.471 deaths for every 100,000 workers). Annual figures are declining, though the 2019/2020 announcement may be lower than some may have expected.
However, HSE states that in statistical terms, the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years and attributes the divergent 2019/20 figure to COVID-19 and natural fluctuation, as opposed to a ‘major shift in the inherent dangerousness of workplaces’:
‘Even without COVID-19, 2019/20 was on track for a lower number of deaths over the year compared with other recent years. However, the number of deaths in both February and March were particularly low compared to other recent time periods and this coincides with the time that COVID-19 was starting to have an impact on the GB economy. While it is not possible to say what the number of deaths in February and March would have been in the absence of COVID-19, there is certainly the distinct possibility that the number of deaths to workers was affected by the impact of COVID-19 on the economy’.
Worker Deaths by Industry
The ‘construction’ industry claimed the most deaths (40) in 2019/20 and the ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ was 2nd (20), albeit with the lowest number of fatalities on record. The ‘construction’ sector boasted a fatality rate 4-times higher than the average industry rate, while workers in ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ and ‘waste’ had an 18-fold risk of death compared to the all industry rate, since they account for a smaller fraction of the total UK workforce.
Worker Deaths by Activity
The most common types of activities attributed to deaths at work were as follows (from most to least common):
- Falling from a height – 29 (33% decrease from last year);
- Being struck by a moving vehicle – 20 (33% decrease from last year);
- Being struck by a moving object – 18 (13% increase from last year);
- Being trapped by an overturning/collapsing structure – 15 (36% increase from last year);
- Making contact with moving machinery – 11 (27% decrease from last year);
- Other kinds of accident – 7 (75% increase from last year);
- Being injured by an animal – 2 (75% decrease from last year);
- Exposure to an explosion – 2 (67% decrease from last year);
- Exposure to, or contact with, a harmful substance – 2 (increase from last year);
- Slipping, tripping or falling on the same level – 2 (no change from last year);
- Coming into contact with electricity – 1 (67% decrease from last year);
- Exposure to fire – 1 (increase from last year);
- Striking against something fixed or stationary – 1 (67% decrease from last year);
- Acts of violence – 0 (100% decrease from last year);
- Drowning or asphyxiation – 0 (100% decrease from last year); and
- Injury through handling, lifting or carrying – 0 (100% decrease from last year).[iii]
Worker Deaths by Age
Occupational deaths in the ‘aged 60 plus’ category equated to 27% of the total number of fatalities in 2019//20. However, this category constitutes just 10% of the total Great British workforce.
In another 1 July announcement, the HSE revealed its newest mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain.[iv]
In 2018, 2,446 employees died from mesothelioma, as a result of occupational exposure to asbestos-containing materials. This is 80 less than in 2017 (2,526), as was reported in our article published in October of last year (here).
The majority of these workers will have been employed in the construction industry, including carpenters, plumbers and electricians. Indeed, data collected by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) identified that NHS trusts in former industrial areas diagnosed the highest numbers of mesothelioma cases between 2014 and 2016.
Moreover, in 2018, there were 2,230 cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB), compared with 2,025, in 2017. There were 10 more female cases assessed for the scheme in 2018 (245), than in 2017 (235). Despite this increase, the proportion of female-to-male IIDB assessments was 0.62% lower in 2018 than in 2017.
Current projections suggest that we should expect the average yearly figure of approximately 2,500 mesothelioma deaths to continue ‘up to around 2020’. Mesothelioma mortality in individuals younger than 70-years-old has started to decrease, with more than 50% of annual deaths now occurring among those aged 75 and above.
It is thought that the UK and Australia still have the highest mesothelioma rates worldwide because of heavy, uncontrolled use of amosite, otherwise known as ‘brown asbestos’, in the 1970’s. Amosite was subsequently banned in the UK, in 1985, along with crocidolite (‘blue asbestos’).
A more detailed assessment of HSE figures (including those pertaining to occupational disease) should be published on 4 November 2020, in conjunction with the release of annual Health and Safety Statistics.
[i] ‘HSE releases annual workplace fatality figures for 2019/20’ (1 July 2020 HSE) <https://press.hse.gov.uk/2020/07/01/hse-releases-annual-workplace-fatality-figures-for-2019-20/> accessed 29 July 2020.
‘Workplace fatal injuries in Great Britain’, 2020 (HSE) <https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/pdf/fatalinjuries-20.pdf> accessed 29 July 2020.
[ii] <http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/tables/ridhist.xlsx> accessed 27 July 2020.
[iii] <https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/tables/ridfatal-20.xlsx> accessed 29 July 2020.
[iv] ‘Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2020’ (1 July 2020 HSE) <https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/mesothelioma/mesothelioma-20.pdf> accessed 29 July 2020.